Time to Get Serious About Screen Time

Tech is everywhere. I am concerned.

I am concerned about technology and our children.  Don’t misunderstand me; I appreciate technology. However, studies are reporting an increased amount of screen time among children, and at the same time other studies are linking screen time to negative consequences.  We need to take this issue seriously.

Using technology is part of our daily life.  We cannot avoid it. We are blessed by technology and have come to depend on it.  I am thankful for instant access to information and entertainment. I love sharing with my children the songs that were a part of my childhood.  I like the convenient ways we can share data and collaborate on projects. My concern is that because technology is so ubiquitous, we are becoming unaware or unconcerned about its weaknesses, liabilities, and dangers.  For example, negative consequences linked to excessive screen time include: obesity, anxiety, depression, lower school performance, behavior problems (including attention, social, and emotional issues), and sleep problems.

Young parents have grown up with smartphones, and we are now seeing the first generation of children whose parents never knew a time without the internet.  How is this affecting children? The truth is, we don’t know for sure. A recent study, however, demonstrated a verifiable correlation between the amount of screen time and the literal physical development of the brain.  You can read the study here or browse a CNN article about it titled, “MRIs show screen time linked to lower brain development in preschoolers.”  I intentionally used the word “correlation” because we don’t know if the actual use of smartphones and tablets are affecting the brain or the fact that screen time is replacing other better activities and creating bad habits.  Regardless, no one wants to diminish or stunt the development of a child’s brain.  

AAP Recommended Guidelines

There has long been concern among the American Academy of Pediatrics which published recommended guidelines for child media use.  These guidelines include:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure the media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. 
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

Even the World Health Organization has expressed concerns and issued a report on the dangers of an excessive sedentary lifestyle associated with our use of digital media.  

What Should We Do? Do Something.

There is no shortage of data to support the concern.  Oddly enough, there is also no shortage of information online to tell us how to limit our time online.  The choice for us comes down to whether we care enough to do something. Are our children more important than our media and technology?  Are our lives so busy we can’t monitor our own children? Are we so distracted that we have given up training our children in exchange for the quietness of a digitally distracted child?  I cannot answer these questions for you. I know that I have fallen far short of my own desires. I also have realized how short the child rearing days are. Now is the time to reorder our family life and get control.  Now is the time to do something.  

There is grace and forgiveness for every parent who falls short.  There is strength and wisdom in Christ for every parent who feels weak and insufficient.  Let’s start there.